You can’t help thinking we’ll look back on Netflix’s decision to cancel BoJack Horseman in the same way we now do prescribing Thalidomide in the ’60s or letting people smoke on aeroplanes. A mistake. A stupid, costly one.
Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg and drawn by his high-school friend Lisa Hanawalt (the pair met after the former cast the latter in a school play), BoJack Horseman first aired back in 2014. It was an underwhelming show at first. It wasn’t laugh-out-loud funny or especially poignant. It was just a show about a washed-up celebrity, who also happened to be a horse.
Then a remarkable thing happened. Half-way through that same season, the irreverent cartoon morphed into something else. It became a show about trauma, depression, loneliness and the complexities of grief. In fact, we’re still recovering from last season’s ‘Take Free Churro’, in which BoJack delivers an episode-long monologue to his dead mother.
Like all shows that straddle the zeitgeist, BoJack was about something other than what it presented itself as. Bob-Waksberg showed he was able to read the room when he told Vice in 2017 , “I think people who argue for political correctness, are not actually arguing for censorship.” He went on to clarify his thoughts, explaining his belief that ‘liberals’ were “arguing for self-control and self-restraint.” They were arguing, Bob-Waksberg claimed, “for people to be conscious of the power they have.” As someone making popular entertainment, the producer conceded he had “a lot of power”, but he also knew he had to be “careful” what he did with that power. A rare display of restraint in an industry obsessed with what’s coming next.
Stealthily, the adult cartoon started talking about ‘the big things’ fearlessly. It’s a fact that you’ll never see Hank Hippopopalous and Bill Cosby in the same room. It’s quite likely that the third-season episode ‘Brrap Brrap Pew Pew’ – a carefully-crafted mediation on abortion – might have saved a teenage girl’s life. A season later, the episode ‘Thoughts and Prayers’, well, you get the idea. BoJack Horseman is The Simpsons for the post-Weinstein era. South Park for a world that didn’t want to smash things up anymore. And then it was cancelled.
Whoever’s job it is to walk around Netflix HQ swinging at beloved TV shows with a scythe, has some thinly-repressed anger issues. Take The OA, for example, which was denied the chance to continue its story after two deliciously perplexing seasons. Even when axed shows are given a season to say goodbye – hello Orange Is The New Black, wassup House Of Cards? – it’s often proved to be a mixed blessing. Come the beginning of the end, both shows descended into excursions of banal, joyless introspection that do nothing for their legacies. BoJack Horseman had to have a season to say goodbye. There would have been riots – slow, shuffling, downbeat riots – if it hadn’t. The question is, can it break the mould and go out on a high?
Ending on a positive note doesn’t feel right for BoJack, though. Instead, let’s judge the Netflix animation on its merits – compassion, empathy and the ability to transmit very complex emotions onto screen. The first half of the final season starts in a place we’ve never visited before. Bojack is sober. He’s in rehab. He’s trying to get his life back on track. The sometimes myopic view in which we’ve watched his story thus far has had its lens smashed. Season six asks big questions about redemption and forgiveness – topics that seem even more prevalent in an era of trial-by-social-media and ‘cancel culture’. Surely, this is the subject matter BoJack should be leaving us with?
- Read more: BoJack Horseman season 6: release date, trailers and everything we know so far about the final season
It’s not just BoJack growing in season six – his friends are too. Todd reconsiders what his family means to him. Diane, for the first time, finds fascination in herself, not just other people. BoJack’s agent, Princess Carolyn and Vanessa Gekko broker a fragile ceasefire. These characters we’ve come to love – via disgust, irritation, disinterest and all manner of other perspectives – are now a million miles from the places they arrived at. And then the middle of the season hits on the biggest of the big questions – just how sorry do you have to be to make amends?
Once again, Bojack is asking the societal questions that few TV shows are. How could Netflix let this show go? Frankly, it’s neglecting their duty as an entertainment service. It’s denying its audience a form of therapy. It’s a fucking disgrace.
The first half of the sixth and final season of ‘BoJack Horseman’ is available to stream on Netflix now. The second half airs on 31 January 2020.